By Phil Nyamane
Fights of the magnitude of Saturday night's vacant WBO junior flyweight between the fast rising star, Masibulele "Hawk" Makepula, and legendary Jacob "Baby Jake" Matlala invariably end in controversy.
This was not an exception. Not surprising, Golden Gloves Promotions' boss Rodney Berman, thinks of matching the two in a return bout after fans booed Makepula's crowning as the new champion.
I thought the courageous and vintage Matlala (48.65kg) deserved the verdict by two points after his strong comeback from the middle rounds of this main bout of the Nashua "Night of Legends" three world staged at Carnival City.
While I wouldn't complain over Makepula's (48.85kg) win in this gruelling, tense and combustible battle considering his strong start and rocketing of Matlala with his combinations to the head, American judge John Stewart (112-117), and SA's Aubrey Erasmus (114-118) and Lulama Mtya (112-118) must have seen another bout.
The wide margin by which they gave the fight to Makepula and the fact that Erasmus and Mtya are from the Cape were bound to raise suspicions that the outcome was decided long before the bout.
That, however, did not justify the shocking behaviour by some members of the Gauteng commission. They shouted and booed the decision prompting Mzi Mnguni, manager of Makepula to remark: "I am disappointed. After such a good fight and after Makepula got the verdict, the reception by members of Gauteng made me feel like a foreigner.
"Because we fought 'Jake' they told me (by their actions) that I don't belong here."
But as Berman later put it, South African boxing was indeed the winner and the two fighters would possible meet in a return bout towards the end of the year.
But does South Africa need a bout that would not help jerk the careers of a legend and a potential great young fighter whose win of a second title in his 17th bout is a South African and world record?
As an after thought, Berman realised the wisdom of keeping the two apart. He disclosed he is going to try and get Matlala a crack at the vacant WBU junior fllyweight title vacated by Makepula before Saturday's bout.
What is more, the two could share the bill when Makepula makes the first defence of his newly-won crown probably on May 13.
Two rounds highlighted the bout - the ninth when Makepula's left-right combinations to the head, left and right hooks to the body had Matlala wriggling like a fish at the end of the line.
But the never-say-die Matlala came back like a whirlwind in the 10th. Sliding under Makepula's left and right crosses, he shook his younger opponent with left-right combinations and over-arm rights that alarmed Makepula's corner.
Makepula, who regards Matlala as one of his role models, later disclosed they spoke to each other during the bout.
"Jake kept saying to 'pick up Hawk, pick up Hawk' and I would reply 'Okay Bra Jake' while pummeling each other. This was a hard fight and Jake was tough. I thought I'd let him retire but I'll give him an opportunity and hope he'll get another chance," said Makepula.
Reflecting on the third round during which he mistakely engaged Matlala in a toe-for-toe slug match and ended up with a slight cut on the right eye after easily winning the opening two rounds Makepula said he wanted to prove that he could stand up to Matlala.
Matlala paid tribute to Makepula even though the little dynamo hinted he thought he deserved to win.
"This was a wonderful bout," he said. "He's got a big heart and has beaten the best. I'm sure he'll go far. You know who won the fight," Matlala said at a post-fight conference.
Theo Mthembu, manager of Matlala diplomatically avoided commenting on outcome but said he was surprised by the wide margins the judges gave to Makepula.
"What has made boxing a great sport is that you must have a winner and you must have a loser. There are no draws," said Mthembu. "I go into a fight expecting to win or lose. You become happy when you win. You become unhappy with a loss.
"If you cannot take these then don't be in the sport at all."
He said he listened to two of the scorecards and when he heard the margins "I did not bother to hear the third".
Harold Volbrecht, manager of WBU heavyweight champion Corrie Sanders who dispatched challenger, Al "Ice" Cole in one minute three second of the first of their scheduled 12 rounds bout, described the Makepula-Matlala bouyt as "a classic".
"I can't remember when last we saw such a fight but I say the Matlala-Makepula bout was better than the Gerrie Coetzee-Kallie Knoetze (SA heavyweight title) bout. It was class," said Volbrecht.
Turning to Sanders' storming finishing of the former IBF cruiserweight champion, Volbrecht says Sanders (104.50kg) is at his best now. "I'll be at Rodney's back to remind him of (undisputed heavyweight champion) Lennox Lewis.
"Corrie is the most underrated boxert in the world. We'll beat Lewis and Tyson anytime."
If the world does not respect Sanders, then South Africans must have looked at him with a new hope after his speed never gave Cole the chance to get off the starting block.
"Corrie knew I'm a slow starter and he took advantage of that," a dejected Cole (105.70) said afterwards.
The WBU champion said he did not plan to stop his opponent in his third inside-the-distance win in as many defences. "But I love it if I stop them because I don't get overpaid. If I can do it in one why go 12?"
Hes said he expected a tough fight from the American and added: "I'm over the moon. I showed myself to the people and the world that I'm one of the best in the world."
"Corrie has given the WBU a new dimension," said Berman reflecting on the opinion held by some that WBU champions deserve less respect than WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO champions. "He is the heavyweight champ of the world."
**nIn the opening fight of the night, South Africa's WBU cruiserweight champion, Sebastiaan Rothmann (85.75kg) was forced to pull all stops and dig into his reserves before outpointing a slow-starting but tricky Damon Reed 238-227, 238-226 and 238-228.
American Reed (86.05) lured Rothmann on several occasions by crouching low and exposing the left side of his face. He would caught Rothmann with over-arm rights and left crosses several times.
Although Rothmann had better reach, his slow handspeed could not help him dictate terms.
Although Botes is not in the same class as Thobela in terms of technique, he contributed to his loss of the title. He was docked a point each in the fourth and 10th rounds by referee Len Hunt for deliberately butting and cutting Thobela's right eye and retliating with a low blow.
Thibela strengthened his winning chances by dropping Botes with over-arm rights in the eith and 12th rounds.
Judges Buqwana (113-111), Chaane (115-14) gave it to Thobela. Schutte saw it 114-114.
While the belt gives Thobela respite - and he can beat a few local campaingers given his ability - he clearly has to work hard on his flabby weight if he is to be taken seriously.
What is disturbing though is Thobela's failure to take charge of a fight. His hand speed has slowed down immensely and his reflexes are gradually getting numb.